Concord, N.H. For those who love peanut butter, only the simplest of recipes will do. It must be eaten by the spoonful.
Sure, at 100 calories and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon a diet based on the a-la-spoon approach may not be in everyone's best interest, but don't dismiss this nutritional powerhouse just because you're watching your waistline.
Especially for vegetarians, peanut butter can be an easy source of healthy fats, protein, vitamin E and iron, according to Brie Turner-McGrievy, dietitian for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
It also is an easy way to give vegetable and other meatless dishes a savory touch think thick udon noodles coated with a peppery peanut sauce, or vegetables with a creamy peanut sauce with kick.
Turner-McGrievy says the trick to keeping peanut butter healthy is to stick with natural products that lack the added fats (often the unhealthy hydrogenated types) and sugars found in most regular peanut butters.
Reading the ingredient list is the easiest way to ensure your peanut butter is the healthy sort. Natural products should contain peanuts, sometimes salt, and that's it. Anything hard to pronounce, and chances are it isn't natural.
Another test of good peanut butter is oil separation, which in regular peanut butters is prevented by hydrogenated fats.
Now that you know it's safe to indulge, don't limit yourself to just PB&J; sandwiches. Start off with an all-purpose spicy peanut sauce perfected during years of testing, and much tasting.
Intended as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetarian spring rolls, this sauce also is great tossed with noodles. Or slather slabs of tofu in it and roast until the sauce bubbles and just begins to dry around the edges.
To lower the fat in this recipe, substitute 3 tablespoons of soft, silken tofu for an equal amount of the peanut butter.
African Yam and Peanut Soup with Ginger and Pineapple
8 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons minced ginger
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 medium yams (or sweet potatoes), peeled and roughly chopped
14-ounce can crushed pineapple, juice retained
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
5 tablespoons natural smooth peanut butter
1 bunch (to taste) cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
Hot sauce, to taste
Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over a medium flame.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy soup pot, heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Saute for 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and paprika and saute another 5 minutes.
Add the red pepper, yams and remaining salt. Saute until the vegetable start to stick to the pot. Add the vegetable stock to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Partially cover and simmer until the yams are soft, about another 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the pineapple with juice, tomatoes, peanut butter and remaining vegetable stock, and simmer for 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender (or transfer in batches to a blender or food processor), puree soup until smooth.
Simmer the soup for another 10 minutes. To serve, top with cilantro, lime juice and hot sauce, all to taste. Makes 8 servings.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-inch piece fresh ginger
6 to 8 tablespoons chunky peanut butter (more or less depending on desired thickness)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 to 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Serve immediately or chill. If chilled, allow to come to room temperature before serving.